Fausto Gomez, OP
For Christians in particular, the month of November of every year is the month of the other life, life after death – the afterlife. Our faith tells us that there are three different states where people who pass away may go: heaven, purgatory, and hell. We hope to go to heaven “to be with Christ,” and be among those who die in God’s grace and friendship, and need no further purification. We might pass by purgatory and be among those who die in the state of grace and friendship with God, but still need to undergo some kind of purification. Those who die in the state of grave, mortal sin against God, others or themselves, or failed “to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones” will be separated from Jesus and go to hell: only those who want to be excluded from the communion of God with Mary and angels and saints (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC 1023-1037).
We also believe in the communion of saints, a communion made up of the saints in heaven, the souls in purgatory and the pilgrims – we all – on earth (CCC 946-959). We belong to the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, or family of God, and share in the graces and blessings of the blessed. We praise, try to imitate their holy life, and pray to the saints. We pray for the souls, and on earth we help each other by journeying together in God’s presence to heaven. On November 1, we pray to the saints for help. On November 2, we pray for the souls in purgatory.
November 2 is All Souls Day, also called “the Day of the Dead,” but truly the day of the living: the faithful deceased live another life. On this day and through November we remember in a very special way our beloved dead. As we remember them, one by one, we thank them, we pray for them and we tell them that we love them. And we ask them to pray for us.
Our beloved dead remind us all of our death: sooner or later, we shall all die. We want to meet them in heaven and therefore we wish to walk by the way that leads to heaven, that is, the way of Jesus, the path of holiness, above all, of love: we walk to heaven by steps of love. In a true sense, we shall never die: if you love someone you are telling him or her, “You shall never die” (G. Marcel). God loves us and therefore we shall never die, we all shall be raised, like Jesus, from death. When St. Therese of the Child Jesus was dying she exclaims: “I am not dying, I am entering life.”
Hope, permeated by love, is the virtue of our earthly life. Hope is the virtue that describes best our life on earth: we are pilgrims on the way to heaven. We journey in hope by being faithful to the present, to today, to now. And we are faithful to the now by doing what we ought to do at every moment: pray, work, sleep, rejoice, help the poor and suffering…Every moment, we try to do our duty in God’s presence, and with love for only love gives effective value to our words, thoughts and deeds – to faithful hope. We treasure, then, the moment, every moment: it is the only thing in our hands! Yesterday is no more, tomorrow is not yet come, only today, this moment. “Life is a series of moments either lived or lost.”
We all want to go to heaven and try to live good lives to enter heaven, where there will be many surprises. Once, it is said, a rich lady who lived in luxury and was respected by all, died. She was admitted to heaven. The angel took her to her mansion. She went through a good number of beautiful mansions and always thinking, “That will be for me; this will be for me…” But no: none for her. Then they reached a small house, almost like a hut, and the angel told her “This is your place.” She complained, “How can that be?” Well, the angel tells her, “I am sorry but that is all we could build for you with the materials you sent up” (cf. W. Barclay, In Lk 13:22-30).
We believe in the resurrection of the dead! Our faith tells us that death, although humanly painful and a source of tears, particularly when our loved ones leave us, is indeed a liberation, our Easter: “Death is not extinguishing the light but putting out the lamp, because the dawn has come” (R. Tagore). Death is not “something that happens, but Someone coming” (J.M. Cabodevilla). Indeed, “I am going towards the embrace of Christ” (J. L. Martin Descalzo).
Our faithful departed live in peace with God. Through November we remember them in prayer and with great love. One day, God willing, we shall meet them and rejoice together in God’s marvelous presence.
I remember this lovely Irish poem from the tenth Century
Three wishes I ask of the King
When I shall part from my body.
May I have nothing to confess!
May I have no enemy!
May I have nothing!
We know that God loves us. We are in his merciful hands. We pray for the Lord’s mercy. Let us never forget that “We are Easter people and alleluia is our song. Alleluia, that is, praise the Lord!” (St. Augustine).